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Firefighter Fundraiser Given the OK, but with a Catch

Firefighter Fundraiser Given the OK, but with a Catch

Early in August 2009, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell helps the Anchorage fire fighters collect money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association at the corner of Minnesota and Northern Lights boulevards.

Anchorage Daily News via YellowBrix

July 14, 2010

ANCHORAGE – Firefighters can ethically take to the streets while on duty to raise money for charity in the annual “Fill the Boot” campaign under an amendment to city law the Anchorage Assembly approved Tuesday night.

The measure passed 6-4, but it doesn’t mean that firefighters will necessarily be out this Labor Day weekend. In fact, even after it passed, there appeared to be some uncertainty over how the ordinance would play out.

The ordinance as amended by the Assembly now says use of city resources and employee fundraising “are not prohibited by this subsection and are outside the jurisdiction of the ethics board if duly authorized by the Assembly or in writing by the mayor or the mayor’s designee.”

Mayor Dan Sullivan says he doesn’t think it’s appropriate to divert city resources to benefit an individual non-profit. But the wording of the ordinance appears to mean the Assembly would have to choose which charities are worthy of city help, he said.

“My fear is that this puts us in a position where the Assembly is going to have to write policy and procedures,” said Assemblywoman Debbie Ossiander, who opposed the change. “I think it puts us in a position where if a particular event or organization wants municipal resources, they’ll just come to the Assembly and we won’t have a good criteria for approval or disapproval.”

Assembly counsel Julia Tucker said the wording was included to ensure that the fundraising events by city employees were not governed by the ethics code. She and municipal attorney Dennis Wheeler reviewed the proposed changes and were in agreement that they ensured separation of powers and that the mayor writes policy and procedures, she said.

“The phrases that you are referring to are modifications of when the ethics board has jurisdiction,” Tucker told Ossiander. “They are not there to empower or diminish the respective powers of the Assembly and the administration.”

The annual Fill the Boot campaign, held the Friday before Labor Day, has gone on for 20 years and features about 300 firefighters from Girdwood to Elmendorf Air Force Base, often carrying firefighters’ boots, who stand on street corners near their stations to collect donations for the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Alaska.

Citywide, they usually bring in about $115,000 in the three-hour fundraiser, covering about one-seventh of MDA’s annual budget and helping to pay for research, clinics and equipment.

The fire department maintains that more than half of those out on the corners aren’t on duty and that those who are can dash off in an emergency because they are dressed and have fire trucks alongside them.

“The big issue is the administration believed that it was unethical, it was against the ethics code. That’s not the case. Never was, certainly isn’t now because we’ve made it clear,” said Assemblywoman Elvi Gray-Jackson, a sponsor of the ordinance. “I just believe that from day one, there were certain folks who were simply just not interested in having the firefighters fill the boot, for whatever reason.”